|Leafs goalie James Reimer will start against the Hurricanes tonight. (QMI Agency/Dave Abel)
TORONTO - Coach Ron Wilson said the Maple Leafs (20-25-5) won't be looking for any retribution when they host the Carolina Hurricanes (25-20-6) on Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre. What they will be looking for, though, is another strong performance from rookie goaltender James Reimer.
The Winnipeg native will be playing in his ninth game (eighth start) for the Leafs after he got the call to face the Hurricanes ahead of No. 1 netminder J-S Giguere.
The decision wasn’t totally unexpected but still somewhat of a surprise after Giguere backstopped the Leafs to a 4-3 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night. Giguere made 30 of 33 saves in regulation and held the Leafs in the game when they were outshot 22-10 in final two periods.
But Wilson said after Toronto’s morning skate on Thursday that he didn’t want to wait too long to get Reimer (4-3-0, 2.24 GAA, .933 SV%) back in net. Reimer’s last start came in a 2-0 road loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 25, after he was recalled from the Marlies on Jan. 23. He made 29 saves that night and came up big on several occasions, including stopping a couple of Martin St. Louis breakaways to at least keep Toronto in the game.
“He played well in every game he’s been in,” Wilson said of Reimer. “He’s cool and calm in there. There’s not a lot of rebounds ... he’s been very consistent, too.
“He’s earned every opportunity we have given him.”
Most people would agree with Wilson’s assessment. Reimer has played very well for the Leafs, winning four straight road games from Jan. 1 to Jan. 11 and generally showing he is a capable of playing at the NHL level. If he can help the Leafs grab two crucial points off their Eastern Conference rival tonight, Reimer would likely shove Swedish netminder Jonas Gustavsson even further down the depth chart. Gustavsson will likely be watching the game in street cloths, while the veteran Giguere is expected to backup his 22-year-old understudy.
“It’s exciting to start at home. I started a lot of games on the road and only one at home so I’m looking forward to this one,” Reimer said.
Along with Reimer getting the start, the buzz at the ACC on Thursday morning centred around whether or not the Leafs would be looking to get back at Carolina defencemen Tim Gleason for leveling forward Nikolai Kulemin with a single punch during a scrum the previous time these two teams met, a 6-4 road loss for Toronto last week. While some saw the punch as being a bit out of line since Kulemin is clearly not a fighter, the 225-pounder did give Gleason a couple of shots in the face with his gloves on before Gleason responded by dropping his own.
But Wilson said the team won’t be looking for any payback.
“We’re not looking for retribution in any sense like that,” Wilson asserted. “In fact, he (Gleason) called and left a voicemail with Kule, which I think is classy. Retribution for us is to beat them, to get the two points.”
Gleason reportedly said on Thursday morning that he had phoned to see how Kulemin was doing and not to apologize. Kulemin, who still has a shiner from the punch, said he just wants to focus on the hockey game.
“I don’t care about it, I just want to play hockey. I don’t care about fights like this,” Kulemin said.